Is Britain on the verge of another mass-migration, as with the Poles? Behind the rhetoric on Romanians and Bulgarians set to flood the country, sucking up jobs and benefits, the actual expected impact of the lifted restrictions has gone unspoken.
In January 2014, seven years after Romania and Bulgaria were admitted as member states to the European Union, temporary migration and employment restrictions of their citizens will be lifted in nine other EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Spain (only Romanians), the UK and Switzerland (European Commission 2012). All other EU countries lifted restrictions at an earlier stage.
In the UK a moral panic broke out over ‘tidal floods of new immigrants’ (MEP Bloom, UKIP) from Romania and Bulgaria. The Telegraph warned that ‘Britain [is] powerless to stop tens of thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians moving to UK’. The Sun lamented about ‘Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants …threatening to swamp Britain — and flood our overstretched jobs market’. And an e-petition implies that as many as 600,000 could come, often to seek benefits (HM Government 2013). In a desperate move politicians considered a negative image campaign to deter migrants from coming (See this comic but disturbing piece, Britain and Romania: a short history of a troubled romance).
One focus is immigrants’ access to welfare benefits. For instance, Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary, argued that ‘people shouldn’t use the free movement rules just to travel around, looking for the best benefits they can get’ (quoted from Migrants Rights Network 2013). In Germany, the debate is more nuanced. On the one hand, migrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, notably the highly skilled, are welcomed to fuel the economy (Der Spiegel). On the other hand, a discursive ‘threat’ framing on ‘poverty migration’ (Sueddeutsche Zeitung) has emerged. The Focus ran the headline ‘Poor Romanians and Bulgarian immigrants attack Germany’ and the Spiegel highlights poor immigrants from the A2 countries congesting homeless shelters and other social services.